Obi-Wan Kenobi smiled as he handed a quadruple-shot supernova mocha to a bleary-eyed besalisk and wished him a good night. The besalisk growled, tossing a handful of credits on the counter and cradling the drink in one set of hands as he exited through the door fellow barista Jazmyn Del was holding open for him.
“There’s something wrong with you,” Jaz said, flipping the sign to ‘Closed’ and locking the door. “You know that, right?”
“Just because I happen to get along with people doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with me,” Obi-Wan said, counting out the rest of the tip jar to split.
“Getting along with people, huh? Like that human senator this afternoon who wanted you tried for treason for getting her order wrong?” The bangles on the ends of her ahweys rattled as the Nautolan shook her head.
“Ahh, but you’ll notice she dropped the charges and left with a smile.” He handed her her cut.
“Only because you flirted shamelessly and gave her a free muffin.”
Obi-Wan huffed. “I did not flirt!”
“Oh, Madame Senator, my deepest apologies for the error,” Jaz said, her Coruscanti accent terrible and her voice far higher than Obi-Wan’s ever got. “I was simply so flustered to meet one of the signers of the Aleen Accord that I forgot what I was doing!” Her hand fluttered in the air.
Obi-Wan felt his ears burn. “I- Well, I certainly didn’t say it like that!”
Jaz laughed. “Face it, Obi-Wan, you flirt as easily as some people breathe air.” She gave him a quick hug. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing! I always make more tips when I work with you.”
He had no idea how to respond to that, so he decided to ignore it. “She really was a signer of the Accord, you know.”
“Oh, I’m sure she was, Mr. Holo-pedia. Have fun closing tonight!” She grabbed her bag and headed out, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
It had been a fairly slow night, so they’d already managed to get through most of the tasks, but he finished the rest of them on autopilot, daydreaming about the day he’d have a caf shop of his own.
His coworkers thought he was crazy. Even the shop’s owner regarded him with pity whenever the topic came up, but Obi-Wan really loved helping people and giving them what they needed, even if it was only a Javarican espresso and bilaberry muffin. He had a sixth sense about it and sometimes knew what customers would order. Or at least what would best suit them, which wasn’t always the same thing.
He’d just finished counting out the tills when someone knocked on the door.
“Sorry! Closed!” He glanced up on reflex and saw an strikingly-colored zabrak huddled in the doorway. “Try back tomorrow,” he added, feeling a tingle of premonition. He hoped this wasn’t going to mean trouble.
“Please,” the zabrak shouted. “Help!”
That’s when Obi-Wan noticed the squirming bundle in his arms. He was already moving to unlock the door before his mind registered “tooka kits.”
“Thank you,” the zabrak said, slipping through the door as if he expected Obi-Wan to change his mind. “I do apologize for bothering you, but I wasn’t sure if the kittens would make it back to the shelter!”
Obi-Wan found himself taking three tiny furry bundles from the stranger, who was holding four more. They were far too thin and moved sluggishly, but their squeaks were loud and piercing.
“I’m not sure what I can do to help,” he said, cradling the kittens close to his chest.
“Do you have any traladon milk?” Wide golden eyes peered out from a red and black-marked face.
“I- yes, of course,” he said, heading for the fridge behind the counter. Traladon milk was a staple for some of their more common drinks. Very fatty and full of nutrients; just what a starving kitten might need.
“If you could warm some up, I believe I have a set of bulbs in my pocket.” The stranger tried fumbling at his coat with one hand while the kittens wriggled in his other arm.
“Here, let me help.” Obi-Wan grabbed a fresh apron and formed it into a nest on the recently-cleaned counter, depositing his kittens and then adding the stranger’s before he turned to fire up the duatto machine to heat a pan of milk.
“Thank you,” the zabrak said, pulling a handful of rubber feeding bulbs from his pocket. “I should probably introduce myself. I’m Maul Oppress, from Happy Tooka Rescue.”
The bulbs, Obi-Wan noticed, did indeed have a smiling tooka printed on them with the company’s name. That still wasn’t as surprising as the person holding them.
“Maul Oppress?” He raised an eyebrow.
Maul glanced up and smiled. It was... it was a very impressive smile.
“I know,” he said.
For a distracted second Obi-Wan was afraid he’d heard his thoughts.
“If you think my name is bad, wait until you meet my brothers, Savage and Feral.”
Obi-Wan blinked, then realized he was staring.
“Uh, yes,” he said, busying himself with the pan of milk. “That sounds like a fascinating story. Oh! My name is Obi-Wan. Kenobi.”
If Jaz had been there she’d have laughed at seeing him so graceless. He had never been more grateful for her absence.
Maul checked on the kittens and then checked the temperature of the milk, rattling off the story of how he’d found them under the dumpster of a nearby noodle shop with no mother in sight. Obi-Wan helped fill bulbs and then found himself helping to feed the tiny tookas, too. It woke something in him; a burning need to protect these lives at all costs.
The first one he fed, who probably wound up with more milk on her than in her, had striped purple ears and refused to be put down, clawing her way up his shoulder to squeal in his ear.
“She’ll fall asleep soon enough,” Maul told him. “Let’s get her sisters and brothers fed first.”
It was a messy, trying process, but they finally got through it. Maul called in to the rescue facility and told them where he was and what had happened. Judging by the tone of the conversation and the hushed argument that followed, Obi-Wan guessed he was speaking to one of his brothers.
Purple Stripes nuzzled his neck and he managed to get her unhooked from his shirt and back into the makeshift nest by the time Maul clicked off his call.
“Savage is on his way,” he said, keeping his eyes downcast. “I apologize in advance for anything he says and if he tries to recruit you, just say no.”
“Recruit me?” Obi-Wan’s brow furrowed, his fingers continuing to scratch the head of an orange-spotted kitten.
Maul glanced up, his gaze rooting him to the spot as his heart pounded.
“The shelter is perpetually understaffed,” Maul said, moving closer to check on the kittens. Obi-Wan struggled to move out of the way, but their arms still brushed.
“We’re always looking for people willing to help.”
Was it his imagination or was Maul’s voice getting huskier?
“A warm heart in a cold world,” he murmured.
It sounded like a quote. Obi-Wan wasn’t sure if he was meant to hear it, but he certainly felt warmer as a result.
“I… Yes, well, I’m always willing to lend a hand to those in need,” he said.
Maul smiled at him and started to take off his shirt. Obi-Wan stopped breathing. It took him several moments to realize that all Maul was doing was creating a pouch for the kittens.
“They’re too cold,” he explained, tucking the lethargic tookas against him as Obi-Wan did his best to ignore the black stripes on his exposed belly that curved gently downward. “Savage has a warmer in the air van, but until he gets here I’ll have to do it the old fashioned way.”
Obi-Wan tried to think of something intelligent to say. Maybe offer to help. Maul, however, continued to talk.
“Being half-zabrak I run a little warmer than your average human.”
And then he waggled his brow markings. Obi-Wan’s mind blanked.
“Would you like something to eat?” he found himself saying. “The muffins and pastries are destined for the day-old bin, so I’m sure no one will miss one.”
Maul’s eyes seemed to glow in the dim after-hours lighting of the cafe. “I would hate to bother you. Or bother you more after you’ve done so much.”
A loud gurgle interrupted him that definitely didn’t come from one of the kittens. He winced.
“It isn’t a problem, really.” Obi-Wan smiled. “Help yourself. And while I’m afraid I can’t offer you any caf, there’s cold water. Or milk,” he teased.
“Thank you,” Maul said, carefully making his way over to the tray of leftovers, grabbing a somewhat flattened buttersweet puff. “I’m afraid I skipped dinner. It’s been a long night.”
The hum of pleasure he made at the first bite did funny things to Obi-Wan’s stomach. With some effort he managed to keep his mouth shut and not invite the attractive kitten-wielding half-zabrak out to a real meal.
“Do you think they’ll be alright?” he asked instead.
“I don’t know.” Maul licked crumbs off his fingers and poked at the lumps in his shirt. “Some of them might just need a good bath and regular feeding, but I don’t like the looks of the lavender one.” Catching his expression he shook his head. “The pale lavender one I mean. He’s more marbled than the one you were handling and looks to be the runt of the litter.”
“Ah,” Obi-Wan said. Why was he having so much trouble carrying on a simple conversation? “You know, if you like I can-”
A knock interrupted them. They looked over to see a tall yellow-toned zabrak standing at the door, carrying a crate.
“Savage!” Maul hurried towards him and Obi-Wan followed, suddenly aware that it was well past closing time and he was letting two absolute strangers into the cafe with him. Not that he felt he was in any danger, but Gommosa would likely pulls his arms off if he found out. He still unlocked the door to let the other zabrak (half-zabrak?) in.
“Brother, what have you done now?” Savage put the box down and immediately bent to inspect the kittens, listening as Maul explained how he’d found them and what he’d done afterwards and interjecting with a lot of pointed questions. Obi-Wan stood to one side, feeling awkward.
“Alright, you get the orphans settled in the warmer and I’ll deal with the human.”
“His name is Obi-Wan,” Maul said, kneeling to open the box and begin depositing the kittens.
“So you’ve mentioned,” Savage said, turning to face Obi-Wan with a grin. “Several times.”
Obi-Wan straightened, trying to compose his best Customer Service Face as he stuck out his hand.
“Hello! You must be Savage, Maul’s-”
“Brother, yes.” Savage inspected Obi-Wan’s hand before accepting it. His grip wasn’t crushing, but it was, perhaps, a little stronger than necessary. “And you are Obi-Wan Kenobi, the savior of tooka-kind.”
Maul made a strangled noise from the floor. “I didn’t say it like that!”
“I don’t know about being a savior,” Obi-Wan said, casually wiping his palms on his slacks as they began to sweat. “But I was happy to help M- ah, your- your brother when he showed up with kittens needing help.”
“How warm-hearted of you,” Savage said.
“Savage!” Maul hissed, lunging up to grab his brother’s arm. “Leave him alone!”
Savage laughed, “What? I’m just looking out for my baby brother!”
“I’m not a baby,” Maul said, glancing at Obi-Wan. “Feral is!”
“And Feral is currently retrieving the swoop bike that someone left illegally parked two streets over.”
“I feel I might be interrupting something,” Obi-Wan said, deciding to state the obvious.
“Nonsense!” Savage clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t mind me, I’m just happy to see that Maul has found someone-”
“Brother!” Maul tightened his grip on the yellow-and-brown arm.
“-so willing to help him with such an important matter,” Savage finished with a dazzling smile. “Thank you for your help, Obi-Wan, and since I’m sure my brother hasn’t thought to do it, here.” He held out a card.
It was a business card for the Happy Tooka Rescue, including a comm number and address several levels down.
“We really need to get the kittens into emergency care, but if you’d like to check up on him- I mean them,” he corrected, “then you’re welcome to give us a call or stop by.”
Maul had buried his face in his hands. Obi-Wan could feel heat creeping into his cheeks.
“Thank you,” he said. “I, ah, hope they all do well and can find loving homes.”
For some reason that made Savage’s grin broaden. “We’ll see,” he said. “Come on, Little Maul, let’s get the kits back and pampered and checked.” He bent to pick up the box of sleeping kittens. Maul used the opportunity to step closer to Obi-Wan.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “My brother is an idiot. But I do thank you for your help tonight.” He looked Obi-Wan in the eye, “You’ve saved lives tonight; I’m sure of it.”
“I’d say we both did.” Smiling, he reached out to take one of Maul’s hands in both of his own. “You’re doing good work, Maul. I’m glad I could help.”
The moment seemed to stretch. He could feel a tingling in the back of his mind, almost as if… as if…
“Stop flirting and get your butt in gear!” Savage called.
They leaped apart.
“I wasn’t flirting,” they said in unison.
Obi-Wan reached up to swipe a hand over his now-burning face, feeling the soft fuzz along his jaw. Maul ducked his head, scratching at one of his temple horns.
“Thank you again,” Maul muttered. “I’ll- if you call in the morning we should know more about their condition.”
“Yeah. Thanks. I’ll- I’ll do that,” he said. “Wait! Here!” He dug into his pocket, pulling out his take of the tips, and handed it over to Maul, who stared at the credits, then him. “To help with the shelter.” He smiled. “Goodnight, Maul. And… good luck.”
“Goodnight, Obi-Wan.” Maul hesitated, then turned to follow his brother out the door.
Obi-Wan watched as they put the box into a van parked outside (illegally) and climbed in. It may have been his imagination, but it felt like Maul’s eyes met his one last time before they drove away.
Taking a deep breath he turned and surveyed the cafe. The apron was still lumped on the counter and grimy bootprints tracked back and forth over the floor. There were spatters of milk here and there, plus the carton itself still sitting out. It was going to take a while to clean it all up. And, he realized, he was also due in for opening shift in the morning. Sighing, he got to work.